High School Sports


National hall of fame induction ultimate tribute to legendary Hardin coach Laura Sundheim

Laura Sundheim
Posted at 1:50 PM, Jul 10, 2024

HARDIN — When she accepted the job as the first head coach of the fledgling Hardin volleyball program in 1985, Laura Sundheim couldn't have foreseen the success that was to come.

She was, after all, a basketball player and track athlete at heart, having participated in both sports at what was then known as Eastern Montana College in Billings. But coaching proved to be a natural transition when she was asked to join the women's basketball and track and field programs as an assistant in the 1970s.

Now, 42 years after taking her first high school job, Sundheim's dedication — and her laundry list of accomplishments — added up to her being inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in June in Bismarck, N.D.

In retrospect, Sundheim may have surprised even herself.

"I was somewhat stunned," Sundheim admitted during an interview with MTN Sports at Hardin High School. "When I think about working here and coaching here, to me, my coaching wasn't remarkable. I would say the kids and the families and the community were remarkable."

Dynasties aren't built by one person alone; it takes several moving parts. But there are plenty of people who'd dispute Sundheim's self-assessment — people who watched her meticulously construct Hardin's volleyball program up from intramural origins into one of the state's biggest powerhouses, winning five Class A championships in a 10-year stretch.

In all, Sundheim posted a record of 515-168 (a .754 winning percentage) at Hardin between 1985 and 2006. The Bulldogs won three straight volleyball titles from 1993-95, then tacked on two more in 2000 and 2002.

In one span between the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sundheim's Bulldogs never lost an Eastern A match, going 48-0.

Sundheim's hall of fame selection makes her just the third volleyball coach from Montana to earn the HSACA honor, joining Wayne Moorman in 2008 and Jeff Carroll in 2015.

"One of the first things I thought was like, I guess I've been around a while," said Sundheim, who originally hails from Fairview and is also a member of the Montana Coaches Association Hall of Fame. "But it doesn't exactly sink in until you go to the national banquet when they introduce everyone and kind of go through a shortened biography and résumé. It's like, 'Wow. Wow.'

"When I had to start writing things down, they asked for my résumé — championships, win/loss record et cetera, I was like, 'Oh.'"

Sundheim's final season as the Bulldogs' coach was in the fall of 2006, and the program didn't win another title until last season when — perhaps as a non-coincidence — she returned as a volunteer assistant under new head coach Kelsey Torske, who herself was once a standout player under Sundheim's tutelage.

But her success wasn't limited to the volleyball court. In all, Sundheim was a member of 11 championship teams: six in volleyball (five as head coach, one as an assistant) and five in cross country (as both head coach and an assistant).

She also served as Hardin's head girls basketball coach for three seasons beginning in the fall of 1982, on the heels of a stint as the head girls basketball and head track coach in Nashua.

Sundheim was both a head track coach and an assistant track coach for all of her 40-plus years as an educator. And that's to say nothing of the years of refereeing she's done both in girls basketball and volleyball.

The jury is out on whether Sundheim will serve as an assistant coach for the Hardin volleyball team this coming season. The passion for the game is still there, but summoning the energy is another factor altogether.

But she's surprised herself before.

"I didn't think I would stay here this long, maybe just a couple of years," Sundheim said. "And then it was 10, and then I had people contact me about other jobs.

"I remember calling my mom saying, 'What should I do?' And she said, 'Well, do you like where you live?' I said yes. She goes, 'Do you enjoy the school?' Yes. 'Do you enjoy the kids?' Yes. She goes, 'Then there's your answer.' Bigger doesn't always mean better, and so I stayed. And I'm glad I did."

There are plenty of people in Hardin and across Montana who feel the same way.